As the year draws to a close, we take a look back at the IRB Pacific Rugby Cup, a competition which saw a number of firsts in 2010.
The IRB Pacific Rugby Cup 2010 created history in more ways than one this year as the Fiji Warriors became the first team to successfully defend the title, beating the Fiji Barbarians 26-17 in the final at the National Stadium in May.
The all-Fijian contest in Suva meant the tournament witnessed its first-ever single country final with neither of the two Samoan sides – Upolu Samoa or Savai’i Samoa - represented in the last match since the tournament’s inception in 2006.
It was the Barbarians’ first appearance in a PRC final, a stark contrast to last year when they finished sixth, ensuring that all six sides have now competed in at least one final, demonstrating the ongoing competitiveness of the tournament in its five-year history.
The Warriors had to come from behind to secure their historic victory in a gripping final, and it was left to full back Taniela Rawaqa, the tournament’s leading point scorer with 81, to inspire the comeback in their third appearance in a PRC final.
Trailing 17-6 with just 20 minutes to go, it seemed as though the Warriors would fail in their quest to defend the title, but in front of a packed National Stadium, Rawaqa scored the decisive try and added to his personal match tally of 21 points, creating yet another piece of history.
The 21-point haul - one try, four penalties and two conversions - broke the record for the most points scored by an individual in any match in the history of the PRC, the previous best was 19 from Upolu’s Josh Keil in 2007 and Savai’i’s Ted Sikovi this year, and cemented himself as the tournament’s all time leading point scorer with 145.
Replacement Paula Karatu guaranteed the victory in the last minute for the Warriors, who had named only one player from the 2009 final in their starting XV, lock Apisalome Ratuniyarawa, and the result reversed an earlier 23-20 defeat to the Barbarians in the first round of matches.
Josevata Nasilsili was a Barbarians try-scorer in round one win - Photo: Oceaniarugby.com
"After having several players drafted into the Flying Fijians, I told the boys they really had to play their hearts out. I told them that this was the stepping stone to the PNC and the Wallabies' tour. They really played well today and I am very proud of them," said Warriors coach Inoke Male after the final whistle.
"Losing to the Barbarians in the first round was a big motivation for us. We were coming back from a good win against the Reds and I think our composure and our control won us the game today. All the boys really played their part and it was a team effort."
The tournament had begun in intriguing fashion, with three local derbies taking place in the opening round of pool matches hosted by Fiji, Samoa and Tonga respectively and included defeats for both of last year’s finalists.
Inaugural champions Savai’i shut out their opponents Upolu, who succeeded them as champions and were runners-up in 2009, in the second half to win 23-10 at Apia Park, while the Warriors, the first Fijian side to lift the PRC crown in 2009, lost 23-20 to the Barbarians after prop Vesi Rarawa scored a last-minute try to inflict their only defeat of the tournament.
The other opening match saw 2008 champions Tautahi Gold get their campaign off to a solid start against Tau’uta Reds, winning 26-10 at the Teufaiva Stadium in Nuku'alofa thanks to 16 points from wing Tupou Palu.
For the first time the PRC followed a more traditional single-hosting format with the Fiji Rugby Union being awarded the hosting rights for the tournament that has become a showcase for emerging talent in the Pacific Islands. Fiji hosted rounds two to five as well as the final.
“It's been great, particularly in Fiji which has such a wealth of rugby competitions,” the IRB’s Regional General Manager for Oceania, Will Glenwright, admitted on the eve of the final.
“The beauty of changing the format of the tournament and creating a tournament atmosphere and having all of the games in one venue allows the rugby public to develop a better understanding, not only of the competition but particularly of the players that are participating in the tournament.”
Tautahi Gold were the early pacesetters in the Pacific Rugby Cup - Photo: Oceaniarugby.com
It was Gold who stole the march on the rest of the pack and was the only side to maintain a 100 percent record after the first three rounds. Following their victory over the Reds they went on to beat Savai’i 16-14 before ending the Barbarians' 100 percent record in round three, winning 27-24 in a top of the table clash with Palu adding a further 17 points to his tally.
The win over the Barbarians had taken Gold to the top of the standings with 12 points, two more than the Warriors who leapfrogged the Barbarians on point differential following their 42-20 defeat of Savai'i. However, for the third successive match the 2008 champions failed to achieve a try-scoring bonus point and after losing to the Warriors 21-13 and Upolu 24-20 in rounds four and five, they finished third in the standings with 14 points.
Heading into the final round of pool matches Gold and Savai’i were both still in with a chance of making the final, but it was the two Fijian sides that recorded the victories they needed to finish with four victories and 19 points each to gain a final berth – the Warriors doing so in emphatic fashion, scoring seven tries against the Reds in the tournament’s biggest ever winning margin of 48-0.
The beauty of the Pacific Rugby Cup continued once more this year, providing a pathway for locally based players to put their hands up for national selection, and with Rugby World Cup 2011 on the horizon, there was certainly no shortage of players to emerge and demonstrate they are ready physically and mentally as athletes that can handle the rigours of a big tournament.
05/05/10 – Upolu Samoa 10-23 Savai’i Samoa
06/05/10 – Tautahi Gold 26-10 Tau’uta Reds
06/05/10 – Fiji Warriors 20–23 Fiji Barbarians
10/05/10 – Savai’i Samoa 14-16 Tautahi Gold
10/05/10 – Tau’uta Reds 30-43 Fiji Barbarians
10/05/10 – Upolu Samoa 17-24 Fiji Warriors
14/05/10 – Upolu Samoa 18-19 Tau’uta Reds
14/05/10 – Fiji Warriors 42-20 Savai’i Samoa
14/05/10 – Tautahi Gold 27-24 Fiji Barbarians
18/05/10 – Tau’uta Reds 23-34 Savai’i Samoa
18/05/10 – Fiji Barbarians 36-25 Upolu Samoa
18/05/10 – Fiji Warriors 21-13 Tautahi Gold
22/05/10 – Tautahi Gold 20-24 Upolu Samoa
22/05/10 – Fiji Barbarians 19-14 Savai’i Samoa
22/05/10 – Tau’uta Reds 0-48 Fiji Warriors
29/05/10 – Fiji Barbarians 17-26 Fiji Warriors
Taken from the IRB World Rugby Yearbook 2011 - Click here to buy your copy >>